Monday, April 28, 2008

How Did This Happen?

You might have heard today about the 73-year-old Austrian man who imprisoned and sexually abused his own daughter for 24 years. Josef Fritzl admits to locking up his daughter and fathering seven children with her. The Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard said in an editorial: "The whole country must ask itself just what is really, fundamentally going wrong."

First of all, I'm not even certain they can find an answer to what is going wrong. I know I'm being cynical (and also hopeless), but there will always be sick people. Not just sick... but sociopathic... people who can devote hours to planning and building a basement to imprison a victim. People able to hide their crimes from their own neighbors and friends. People who can carry on their lives like nothing is wrong. People who say that they know what they did was wrong yet still have no social conscience.

We have more than our share of these people in the U.S. just ask Texas where, in case you haven't heard, 462 children have been taken from the “Yearning for Zion” ranch owned by the Fundamentalist Church of Later Day Saints. Right now the media is caught up in the curiosity of the hairdos and prairie style dresses of the women caught in this polygamist sect. However, when we get past the fashion show, we'll find there are many other issues to talk about. This Alternet post by Sara Robinson offers More Clarity About Abuse, Intermarriage, Child Breeders, and the Fundamentalist Church of Later Day Saints.
One of the things we need to understand is just how the FLDS managed to stay so far under the radar for so long -- and what twisted consequences were allowed to follow from that lack of oversight. Bramham shows that they did a stunningly effective job of building their own self-sufficient infrastructure of community institutions -- hospitals, police forces, courts, financial trusts, schools, and employers -- that allowed the church to function without interacting with the outside world any more than necessary. Most of the group's institutions were designed to mimic and supplant outside authority well enough to keep the group (and especially its treatment of women and children) hidden from the prying eyes of outsiders. And, for 60 years, those who were responsible for providing higher-level oversight for all these institutions have almost always been somehow induced to look the other way.
The article goes on to explain how the women and children often get their health care from FLDS doctors who feel no responsibility to report abuse and are quite willing to declare unhappy women crazy. The FLDS cops and courts will catch women who try to run and return them to their husbands for punishment. The FLDS cemeteries will hide their dead without anybody ever asking questions.

Yet some people still want to believe that these women are making a lifestyle choice, but it's not a choice if they are born into it and then have to figure out how to escape. FLDS communities do not maintain the "three girls for every boy" ratio by recruiting new sign-ups -- they maintain it by throwing out the boys.

So while Austria does some soul searching, I think we in the U.S. should do the same. Freedom of worship does not mean total freedom of action. Nobody has a right to imprison, enslave or abuse their wives or children. Not even magic underpants can give you a free pass.

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